In the present age the importance of inspiring children to get involved in STEM subjects has never been more important. Companies are struggling to recruit enough scientists, engineers and technologists for their needs and this situation is only going to get worse in the future. It’s also very important to get more girls interested as numbers working in these areas are still far lower than they should be.
My personal motivation for volunteering and getting involved in such activities is based on the fact that I’ve now worked for many years in engineering and as well as providing gainful employment it’s also been interesting and thought provoking. I’ve seen parts of the world such as China and India that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I want to share this with younger people so that they can become aware of the opportunities available to them.

When I was young STEM wasn’t really promoted and so you were reliant on strong role models and seeing certain TV programmes in order to gain an interest in these topics. My father was an engineer and amongst other things worked on the development of Vulcan bombers. He was always fixing things and made model aircraft as a hobby. It was definitely a technical upbringing and I’m sure this had a big influence on me. More specifically my Physics teacher at school and very specifically a control engineering lecturer at university were figures who inspired me to go down a path of pursuing electronic engineering as a career.

It occurs to me that not everybody is brought up in a similar environment and might not come into contact with such inspirational figures. It’s important to give children the opportunity to become aware of these areas through STEM activities as this may be their only chance.

In the volunteering days I’ve done over the last year there are several examples that I can take away to show that I possibly made a difference by creating some sort of spark of interest.

I was doing Science Busking at Jodrell Bank last year as part of the Cheshire Science Festival and the Siemens Curiosity Project. One of the tricks that we were doing was to skewer balloons without bursting them. This is possible by putting the skewer through the end of the balloon where the surface tension is lower. One young boy was highly dubious about this and so when I explained what we were going to do he said in a broad Liverpudlian accent “You can’t do that!” I put the skewer through the balloon and of course it didn’t burst. His reaction was a look of genuine surprise and he said “That’s Amazing!” I’d like to think that he came back from this day engaged and thinking about science in a good way.

Recently I helped out in a local school as a STEM Ambassador as part of the IET’s Faraday Challenge.

This year they are using the BBC microbit and the challenge is for year 7 pupils to design a microbit based product and write the code for it. At the end they have to do a Dragon’s Den type pitch to explain what they’ve done.

The following feedback was received at the conclusion:

The influence of these activities shouldn’t be underestimated and one person at least is now thinking about engineering as a career.

By John Quinn, Principcal Software Engineer, Siemens